The magical hum of summer

Sometimes, in the heat of a summer day, if you’re sitting still (and sometimes if you’re not), you may glimpse a tiny, winged thing not much bigger than a large moth, zip right by, emitting squeaks and beeps. In the northeast, it’s likely a ruby-throated hummingbird in search of a sugar water feeder or a suitable flower.

Before this year, I hadn’t been much on keeping up with feeding hummingbirds; I know you have to change the water often and make sure it doesn’t run out (hummingbirds are voracious sippers), and I just didn’t make the time.

But as I spent more time with Mom, feeding the regular feeder birds like cardinals, house finches, titmice and a few others, I figured we would both enjoy watching hummers through her big picture window. I found an inexpensive feeder, we boiled some water and let it cool, added the requisite sugar, and very shortly, welcomed our first visitor.

little male hummer
The males I find hardest to photograph; the light has to hit them just right to make their gorget shine.

Hummingbirds, perhaps because of their speed (or their insatiable appetite), are not as shy as other birds. After a few days, you can risk getting closer for pictures.

hummer comin
Sometimes you have to keep snapping to get a good photo: these things are fast!

I am always amazed at how birds (and animals as well) can so easily blend into their backgrounds.

hummer camo
One of my favorite hummingbird shots.

I recently relocated Mom to live with my husband and I in North Carolina. As we sat on the deck one evening, a hummingbird flew by. That was our signal; Mom set out the feeder. After about an hour, there was one. Now there are four, and they all think they own the feeding station.

hummer hover
I caught this little beauty mid-hover!

I forgot to look for a second feeder today when we were out shopping. I will have to remedy that soon; the males seem to have already left for the winter.

hummer tail
Hummingbirds look amazing from every angle.
hummer stretch
I joked when we saw the first hummer in North Carolina that they had followed us from Mom’s house, two states away.

Whether sitting still, or zooming by, hummingbirds can be a wonderful introduction to backyard birding.

hummer hello
Soon they’ll fly south, but I look forward to their return in the spring.


Family is what you make of it

The first time Mom laid eyes on Shere Khan, she was answering an ad for a kitten who needed a new home. “He doesn’t like people,” the man said. Mom sat down, and Shere Khan promptly jumped up on her lap to say hello. She brought him home. He was to be a companion cat to Tiger, a lovely ragamuffin kitten my brother-in-law had found in a parking lot in Virginia, and brought him on a family trip to see my parents. Tiger ended up staying, but he was about to claw my Dad to death. The vet said he needed a playmate.

Enter Shere Khan.

upside down
Shere Khan’s motto: The more attention, the better.

The first time I laid eyes on the gray tabby, he was full of the usual kitten antics, but he had a new trick to share, one I found hilarious. He would sit back on his hind legs and rise up, front feet dangling, like a meerkat. He was warmly affectionate, and highly entertaining. I called him my Little Buddy.

Tiger was always more aloof. My sister and mother call him snooty. But I think he’s just a little shy.

lookin lovely
Tiger, bird-watching on the deck.

That was until last fall, when I started traveling to check on Mom, on a more-or-less regular basis. I tried each trip to make friends, and he eventually became less standoffish. He even stood still for some petting, now and then.

tiger playing
Tiger’s pretty fond of sleeping, but he and Shere Khan both like to play.

A few months ago, when Mom got sick, I essentially moved in to help her out. Both kitties got used to me pretty quick, and I’ve discovered most of Tiger’s hiding spots for sleeping. Shere Khan likes to curl up beside me and take a nap. He lets me know, either by staring, winding around my legs or by talking, that it’s time for me to stop what I’m doing and dole out some attention.

Watching them play is fun, but I’ve come to enjoy seeing them groom each other. While one is licking, the other usually has a blissful look on his face.

wash dah face
Shere Khan thinks Tiger does a purr-fect job washing his face.

I caught them at bath-time this afternoon, and they ignored me for a while.

Mmmmm. You got the right spot.

That is, until I turned on the flash.

tiger licking
Hey! I’m takin’ a bath, here.

Luckily, Shere Khan is quick to forgive. Like Tiger, I’ve been the recipient of several of his loving head-bumps.

Shere Khan gives Tiger an affectionate head-bump.


October: my favorite color

Quite recently, I’ve rediscovered mornings. Sleeping in used to be a cherished luxury. After my children were born, my body clock eventually adjusted to getting up early, and then my career took a detour. I started working evenings, not getting to bed until after midnight. So, again, I slept late, pretty much on a daily basis.

My new job has more regular, daytime hours, which I appreciate. But I still don’t get up and walk every morning as I’d like to. After a recent day-long drive back to West Virginia, my tight muscles were aching to stretch, and I was ready for a walk “around the hill.”

When I started out, it was just getting light. The birds – mostly robins – chirped greetings to each other.  As the darkness lifted, and the sun peeked over the hills, my power walk became a quest to capture the sunrise.

I walked around the circle, catching glimpses of daybreak – and the mist. Stopping every few minutes, standing on tiptoe, I darted looks between houses and through the woods, trying not to alarm the neighbors.

An October morning surprise.
How many of these sunrises did I just not see as a child?

The woods on this road were thick, so I hurried on, and remembered the nearby stub of a road that looks about level with the airport, which is on another hill, on the other side of the river. I might capture a good view there. I walked up and down that street a few times, looking for the right spot to snap a picture.

I must’ve hurried up and down that particular road three times looking for just the right scene, knowing my chance to capture the best colors was quickly fading.

The sun gave the fog here an orange glow.
October isn’t just orange, red, and yellow – there are hints of pink, too.

I headed farther on down the hill, then, toward the playground, where our bus stop used to be. On the way down, I found the sun . . .

You never know what’s waiting behind a West Virginia hill.

And, a little farther down, one of my favorite trees. Not quite all its leaves were gone . . .

It was past peak season for fall colors, but I thought this tree was still picture-worthy.

Down and around I went, looking at the old neighborhood, remembering when. Then it was light, and time to head up one of the many, steep hills I used to dread walking up as a child. It’s funny how things change.

The last big hill.